Saturday, December 8, 2012

Does Russia matter in Syria anymore?

Desparate world powers, in an attempt to behead the Syrian regime, tried many ways they considered effective in nudging Syrian president Bashar al-Assad into quitting. All of them failed miserably.

Diplomatic overtures to end the bloodshed in Syria could be regarded as one of the most laborious, multi-lateral and the longest diplomatic talks to halt a civil war in the history. Initially, the European Union, particularly the U.S., held direct consultations with the Assad regime earlier last year, with U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich visiting Damascus to urge Assad to unclench his fist while responding to mass protests across the nation.  Then the duty fell on the shoulders of regional countries, mainly Turkey. While intense negotiations were under way, Ankara was angered by Assad’s what it said “blatant lies” and hence dumped the Syrian president. The Arab League took the flag but gave it up by February this year after failing to achieve any tangible progress. Then joined the United Nations, appointing its former chief Kofi Annan. That initiative, too, ended in failure.

In the course of the failing Syrian diplomacy, when the U.S., Arab nations and Turkey refused to hold dialogue with Assad, they then turned to states who threw weight behind the Assad regime and considered them effective actors with tremendous leverage in Syria. Neither of them had success in ending the 20-month violence in Syria. 

Today’s fashion is to pin hopes on Moscow. Many states, particularly Turkey, fixed their gaze on Russia, saying that, in the words of Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Russia holds the key to the Syrian crisis. Ankara reiterated its position on Russia’s role earlier this week, asserting that it is Russia, not Iran, what mattered most when it comes to Syria.

One reason why Turkey is too hopeful that Russia’s involvement could change things on the ground is because Russia veteod several UN Security Council resolutions it deemed biased against the Assad regime. It was partly because Russia felt fooled by the Security Council members when they endorsed a resolution last year that eventually swept Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi out of power.

I don’t want to think that Turkey naively believes that the UN Security Council will bomb Syria the next day after Russia changes its mind and votes for the Syria resolution. But there is no indication to think otherwise.

Another sign that Russia is not a hope at the end of the tunnel is the latest U.S.-Russia talks on Syria. The U.S. and Russia held talks this week to find a way to resolve the Syria crisis but Russia was too skeptic, with its foreign minister saying that there was only a slim chance that the leaders could come out with something that would wind down the escalating conflict in Syria.

Instead of pinning hopes on Russia, spending too much energy on proding Moscow to change its position that will only make it feel emboldened, Turkey should divert its attention to elsewhere if it wants to see Assad leave soon.

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